There was a tendency in ancient plays in Greece and Rome to introduce something that was called a deus ex machina solution (literally “God from a Machine”). For very often, the playwrights had concocted a plot so complicated, with so many subplots and difficult situations, that they themselves really couldn’t resolve the mess they’d written. Thus, “gods” (marionettes or actors really) would be lowered down onto the stage from above, using winches and other machines. These “gods” would simply and magically solve all the problems. Hence the expression deus ex machine has come in English to mean “a contrived or unlikely solution.”
Somehow, I thought about that as I saw the cartoon below. I also thought a lot about the mess that we’re currently in in our culture, and throughout the whole world. For where, really, aren’t things just an awful mess? Marriage, family, sexuality, and the meaning and purpose of life, are all confused. Social order, self-restraint, and any moral consensus, let alone the practice of virtue or even common sense, are becoming hard to find.
How are we ever to clean up this mess? The depth of confusion and increasing social chaos, along with base and reprehensible behavior that many actually celebrate, make it hard to imagine that we’re going anywhere, except to a very bad place, and with increasing rapidity.
Yes, it’s a little bit like the ancient playwrights of Greece and Rome who had written themselves into such a chaotic corner that they had to use fake gods to bail themselves out. As for us, only the one, true God can snatch us out of the quicksand.
In the cartoon below, there is a secret agent man who seems to think he has everything under control. But even as the cartoon opens, we can see he’s a bit foolish, unsteady on his feet, and can barely cross the street without getting killed. Let’s call this secret agent man “Modern Man.” He thinks he amounts to something, but he ain’t all that.
There comes into “Modern Man’s” life a pesky pigeon that he just can’t beat. Let’s call the pigeon “Consequences.” For all Modern Man’s gadgets and apparent smarts, the pigeon Consequences just keeps outsmarting Modern Man. In fact, it is exactly Modern Man’s technology that the pigeon, Consequences, is able to exploit. In effect, the pigeon hoists Modern Man with his own petard.
And though utter disaster is ultimately avoided by Modern Man, as the video draws to its conclusion the pesky pigeon is still there. He’ll never go away! Then comes a surprise ending, a kind of deus ex machina solution.
What does all of this have to say to us modern men (and women)? Well, very much like “Modern Man” in the cartoon, we too have been hoisted with our own petards. Despite our bravado and our prideful self-assurance, we ain’t all that. We can barely cross the road without getting killed. In other words, it is only by the sheer mercy of God that we have not annihilated ourselves with nuclear weapons, etc.
But like Modern Man in the cartoon, we are increasingly dogged by the consequences of our many bad choices. Like the man in the video that just can’t beat the pigeon, we just can’t seem to get away from the consequences that afflict us. And it is often our modern way of life and technology that are the very things that cause the greatest harm.
And while we have somehow avoided complete disaster, it becomes increasingly hard to imagine how we can ever get out of this mess that we are in. Yes, only a solution from above, only God, can save us.
How he will do it? I don’t really know. I am afraid that the only way I can see of pressing the “reset button” in a world gone mad would be for some awful calamity to happen that would so rock us back on our heels that we would actually have to start living ordered lives again.
But of course, I am not God, thanks be to God! God has in the past effected great reforms, seemingly out of the blue. For example, even as the Roman Empire crumbled in the 4th Century and the Church lost all of North Africa to the Muslims in the 7th Century, God worked the miracle that the Barbarian tribes of the north suddenly began to embrace Christ.
At another great crisis in the “Dark Ages,” when much seemed lost to plague and social disorder, suddenly people like Francis of Assisi and St. Dominic appeared on the scene. And later came St. Bernard, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. John of the Cross, ushering in great reforms in response to the Protestant Revolt. And when millions walked out of the Church in Europe, nine million came in in Mexico, through Our Lady of Guadalupe.
We can only pray that God will do it again; namely, effect a great reform, as if out of the blue. Lord knows we were in an awful mess emerging from the Satanic 20th-century. It’s going to take a miracle, or a calamity (I hope not), to reset and restore the modern world seemingly gone mad.
For the sake of Thy sorrowful passion, have mercy on us, and on the whole world.
Anyway, enjoy the cartoon. It’s a good little allegory about a prideful secret agent who thinks he’s all that, but he ain’t; and how a little pigeon practically pecks him to death. Only a solution from above can save him from the awful bird called “Consequences.”
Help us Lord!